There's been a lot of hair talk in the News this week, it started with an outpouring of support for Belmopan City council receptionist Cheyenne Banner after she refused her supervisor's suggestion to straighten her afro.
And we can report another victory for natural tresses, this one in the Supreme Court today where Justice Sonya Young declared the police department's ban on dreadlocks for female officers unconstitutional. Attorney for the claimants Leslie Mendez put it like this in a Facebook post, quote: "The court found that it was an assault on human dignity!!! Be proud of your judiciary today. Justice Young really delivered a resounding victory for these incredible women, who stood their ground, even as their jobs were on the line." End quote.
It's a decision that marks a huge win against regulations deemed discriminatory to black women, and a major step forward for self-expression. We asked the COMPOL about it today but he says that those limitations are already a thing of the past.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"That matter is long behind us. I even forgot about that matter, because the truth is the female or the officers involved they have been working and we have no issues. Some of them have been promoted, even with their dreadlocks and the court ruling is the court ruling. That's the reason why we have a court system. The court looks at laws and where the court find that certain laws or certain rules are inconsistent with the constitution it is the court's duty to point it out to us and then we must make amends to our policies and so I have absolutely no issue with the court ruling."
'What's your position on natural hair in a professional environment?"
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"While yes I do believe that women should be able to express themselves, particularly in terms of how their natural appearance in supposed to be, I do believe that when it comes to a professional organization that they must be some guidelines that women should be able to follow. The guidelines must not be too rigid that it takes away from them their ability to express themselves. When it comes to police, BDF, coast guard we are a discipline organization and the fact that the nature of our work allows us to interact with people and may even come into some degree of struggle with people, like for example a police going to arrest someone - you don't want to have your hair in a style that the person that you may go to arrest will use your hair as a weapon against you, but when it comes to other types of profession that does not engage the public like the police do. So long as the person hair looks neat I don't see an issue with it."
The Commissioner also told us that male cops hoping to grow dread locks shouldn't get any ideas, because while the guidelines for women's hair were previously ambiguous the guidelines for men's hairstyles are strict and extremely clear. He also told us that he doesn't believe that any court would countenance that change on the grounds of expression when the guidelines remain present to new recruits upon admission have not changed.
Supreme Court Rules against B.P.D.’s Regulation – a Win for Cops with Dreadlocks!
Today, the Supreme Court handed down a big win for two police officers with dreadlocks. The Court’s says the Belize Police Department’s disciplinary action on females in the force with dreadlocks infringes on their freedom of expression, among other rights. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Young handed down that decision today. You’ll recall that in May 2019, five female police officers were facing internal disciplinary action because they failed to remove their dreadlocks. Two of those officers PC Shantel Berry and PC Alleeya Wade believed that it violated their constitutional rights. Berry’s position was that the dreadlocks were a step into the Rastafarian faith, while Wade saw it as an acceptable expression of her black identity. So, the cops took legal action. Attorney-at-law for PCs Berry and Wade, Leslie Mendez, says that this is a big win for racial discrimination against black women but that there is also a broader implication – especially for the decision-makers as it has implications on diversity.
Leslie Mendez, Attorney-at-law
“The decision agreed, thankfully, Justice Young gave a position validating the positions of the female police officers and finding that indeed they violated their rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, as well as freedom against discriminatory treatment. So, essentially those were the findings of the court.
This decision is certainly a celebration and again a validation of black women’s rights to expression and their right to express their identity and as the claimants indicated, for them it was really to resist against the notion that afro-textured hair and just generally traits and characteristics associated with persons of African descent is not acceptable or professional in the work space.
From that very limited perspective, it still means a lot. Looking at the judgment, and there is no written judgment at yet and that I am assuming will come shortly. But in the oral decision, it was clear that what the implications are is that it is an obligation or a call on decision makers to really take into consideration the implications on diversity when they are imposing what facially looks like a neutral regulation that applies to everybody the same. The right to protection against discriminatory treatment doesn’t only guarantee that you are going to be treated the same but rather it also guarantees that our differences will be accommodated and our differences will be celebrated. And so what it means is that when it comes to things that have implications on racial, cultural identity, as well as religious beliefs, if there is going to have a regulation that is going to infringe upon that to some extent then that infringement needs to be legitimate and it needs to serve a purpose beyond uniformity, for instance, in this case.”
The other attorney on the case was Anthony Sylvestre.